India recently approved what lawmakers considered the harshest anti-conversion law in the country's history yet.
The Madhya Pradesh State Cabinet on Dec. 26 approved what the lawmakers dubbed as the harshest anti-conversion law ever implemented in the country's entire history yet. The law replaced its former act with stricter implementation and sanctions that the authors said will prevent the forced religious conversion of poor Hindus.
On Jan. 9, Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben Patel, promulgated The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance of 2020 to replace the Madhya Pradesh's Religious Freedom Act of 1968. The order comes with a list of more stringent rules on citizens desiring to change religion. The act also includes rules for religious conversion facilitators, the International Christian Concern (ICC) reported.
A part of the ordinance says individuals who desire to switch religions must secure a permit from the district administration 60 days prior to the conversion. The person facilitating the conversion must also let the district administration know about the upcoming conversion 60 days ahead of the ceremony.
The ordinance clearly stated sanctions on individuals caught violating the rules on religious conversions such as failure to secure the necessary permit and forcefully converting individuals to a different religion. Citizens who fail to follow the previsions will have to face imprisonment of up to three to five years. Violators will also have to pay a 50,000-rupee penalty.
Under Section 3 of the ordinance, individuals convicted of forceful religious conversions minors, women, and alike will face two to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 rupees. This is more stringent than the previous implementation that sanctions two to five years of imprisonment for the offender and fines them a financial penalty worth 25,000 rupees.
The law was supposed to be promulgated by the Madhya Pradesh State Legislature. However, since the legislature is still not in session, the government promulgated the ordinance as per the constitution. The ordinance will have the same effect on the state as a law. With the weight of the sanctions and the stricter rules to follow in religious conversions, lawmakers dubbed this ordinance as the harshest anti-conversion law yet.
Christians are at a higher risk of false accusations to justify violence inflicted on them for allegations of forced religious conversions. Reports say that radical Hindu nationalists often take advantage of the existence of such ordinances to pass their own laws to limit the changing of religion.
While Christians in the country suffer a lot from violence due to false accusations of fraudulently converting individuals, the population data of India does not provide concrete evidence that they are the ones behind the fraud. Since 1951 up to the most recent census, Christians remain to make up only 2.3 percent of the national population.
However, Christians in places such as Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand suffer violence. Assailants justify the harassment and assault by accusing the victims of forced conversion.
Reports also reveal that since the existence of the anti-conversions law in 1967, there is still no individual in the country convicted of forced conversion, according to ICC.